Viewed from afar these days, it might be easy to conclude that life in Washington, D.C., has become a reality show gone awry.
Cabinet-level nominees stepping down amid claims of wrongdoing; a president seemingly at war with the press and members of his own team; an intelligence community at odds with the source of its authority; and a bureaucratic “swamp” that refuses to be drained.
Not to be overlooked, however, are the real issues facing Congress, the White House and the nation as the hard work of governing marches on.
A century or more ago, there were plenty of people in Wisconsin who cringed at the thought of all those horseless carriages, motorized bicycles and boats buzzing about. And yet, it was precisely that kind of innovation that built a signature part of Wisconsin’s modern economy – and which can be repeated today with an aggressive welcome to autonomous vehicles.
Wisconsin has a strong tradition of entrepreneurship. Think of the marquee companies that remain the state’s economic “calling cards” – Oshkosh Corp., S.C. Johnson, Johnson Controls, Manitowoc Co., Harley-Davidson, Briggs & Stratton, Johnsonville, Kohler, Kohl’s and Quad Graphics. These companies all have one thing in common: They were named after the Wisconsin community of their founding or the last names of their founders.
Many elements make up a thriving entrepreneurial economy. Among them are cultures that reward risk and don’t penalize honest failure; workers who are diverse in terms of skills and training; clusters of innovation in cities or universities; and access to capital.
Just as high on the list is a regulatory climate that encourages the free flow of talent and that lowers barriers to entry into the startup economy.
Just catching up on some recent topics…
Following a Dec. 29 column on the pros and cons of toll roads, an attentive reader noted that tolls need not apply to all lanes on a stretch of freeway. In Colorado, for example, express lanes in parts of the Interstate Highway system help manage congestion and speed up travel for motorists. Drivers who choose to pay the toll can use express lanes in the Denver area that are otherwise reserved for buses and carpools.
As he stood before a crowd at the annual economic forecast luncheon of the Wisconsin Bankers Association, Gov. Scott Walker was upbeat about what 2017 promises for the state. His caveat, however, was all about people.
To be specific, Walker wants to ensure there are enough people ready, willing and able to take part in Wisconsin’s under-pressure workforce.
For many years in Wisconsin, the number of success stories in the high-growth sectors of the economy were few and far between.
Epic in Verona, Plexus in Neenah, Logistics Health in La Crosse and Promega in Fitchburg remain among the most familiar stories of companies born and raised here, in part because they’re mature companies with long track records. Fortunately, the list is growing.
The latest round of investment in Midwestern BioAg Inc. caught many eyes simply because of its size: The 33-year-old company has raised $21.3 million to continue a $40-million recapitalization that began in 2014.
It also deserved notice because of a phrase used to describe the role of two of its latest financiers: “Mission-related investments.”
Whether it’s new companies raising money, established firms moving to the next stage or investors reporting strong returns, there have been some solid harbingers for Wisconsin’s early stage economy in the past month or so.
Launching and growing a business is 90% about the idea, the initiative of the founders and the team they build to bring that product or service to market.
It’s also 10% intangibles that include a support system, formal or otherwise, which lays a foundation for entrepreneurs and their communities to succeed. Here are some upcoming opportunities that fall under that “10% edge”.
In a room that was once little more than a storage area for largely unused equipment, the Waunakee School District is outfitting a space where students can explore their futures.
Dedicated this month at a breakfast that highlighted investments of time and money by community business leaders, the fabrication laboratory – or “fab lab” – within Waunakee High School is still a year or so away from being fully operational.
Already, however, students are using a laser engraver to turn out specially ordered drinking glasses for a wedding and on the horizon are more computer-operated machines, such as 3-D printers.
The longest-running investor pitch event in Wisconsin is the annual Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium.
By one name or another since the 1980s, this conference has been giving entrepreneurs and young companies a chance to tell their stories to investors. It has helped fuel some remarkable success stories, with companies such as Promega, TomoTherapy, Virent, Mirus Corp., Sonic Foundry, Prodesse, NimbleGen, Nerites, Idle Free Systems, Third Wave Technologies, Stratatech, Sologear, PanVera, Soft Switching Technologies and many more taking the stage over time.
A creative provision in the Assembly Republican “Forward” agenda released in early September is the pledge to provide every high school freshman with a computer or tablet to connect them with the internet.
Jim Schmidt, the energetic chancellor of UW-Eau Claire, breaks it down to dollars and cents when he explains why students shouldn’t dally in their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree from his campus in northwest Wisconsin. “It costs $50,000 to stay a fifth year,” Schmidt...
MADISON – With a constancy that goes unnoticed by most people, crude and refined oil flows past us every minute, hour and day. Millions of barrels move to and through Wisconsin daily via a mix of transportation modes that carry with them varying degrees of risk and...
State policymakers might easily believe so-called “advance industry” jobs are purely a Madison or Milwaukee phenomenon and not really all that relevant to the rest of Wisconsin.
A recently released report from the Brookings Institution, a respected national think tank, dispels that myth by highlighting the importance of such jobs to cities outside Wisconsin’s “Big Two” metros.
The latest report from the Kauffman Foundation reaffirms what most people already know: Wisconsin as a whole is not a hub for starting and growing a business.
The key words there are “as a whole,” because while parts of Wisconsin are desperately short on startups and other emerging companies, parts perform above the national average.
In the global competition for economic prosperity, some places are positioned to perform better than others. That’s the natural order of things.
However, even those places with the tools to compete must remind others about the elements of their strategic edge. That’s not bragging, which many people in Wisconsin find hard to do, but marketing, which is essential in an ever-changing world.
Ken Johnson, the veteran Wisconsin investor who is a partner in the Badger Fund of Funds, has held true to his vision from the start.
Even before the Badger Fund of Funds was officially seeded in 2014 with a $25-million investment from the state of Wisconsin, Johnson described the early stage fund as “money for minnows” to be led by young, regionally focused managers.
In time, Johnson predicted, those 30-something managers would be seasoned enough to raise second and third funds – boosting return on investment for everyone, including the communities in which the funds were rooted.
Even the low-end estimates of connected devices in the world by 2020 is a mind-bending number.
Gartner, the technology research firm, pegs the number at 26 billion. Cisco Systems estimates 50 billion. Semiconductor giant Intel predicts 200 billion. International Data Corp. forecasts 212 billion.
To paraphrase the late U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen: A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real devices.